Leclerc shows ability to bounce back with clutch G6 outing

After blown save in Game 5, right-hander escapes eighth-inning jam against Astros

October 23rd, 2023

HOUSTON -- Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said he thought closer José Leclerc took Friday night’s blown save hard.

Who wouldn’t have? Up 4-2 in the ninth in Game 5, Leclerc allowed a massive go-ahead three-run homer to Jose Altuve that gave the Astros a 3-2 lead in the American League Championship Series, a crushing blow that even the most confident closers would struggle to shake off.

Leclerc bounced back anyway. Bochy sent his closer out in the eighth inning of Game 6 with runners on first and second and one out. Leclerc answered the call by getting the two biggest outs of Texas’ 9-2 win on Sunday night at Minute Maid Park.

“They always say a good closer has a short memory, and he does,” Bochy said. “He's such a tough kid.”

“For me, what happened Friday -- just forget about it,” Leclerc said in Spanish through translator Will Nadal. “Today is a new day.”

Before the Rangers’ five-run outburst in the ninth -- highlighted by Adolis García's grand slam -- they were just barely hanging on with a 4-2 lead. Leclerc entered to face the left-handed-hitting Kyle Tucker and walked the AL leader in RBIs to load the bases with one out.

A potential second blown save and the looming end of the Rangers’ 2023 season didn’t faze him. Leclerc finished all of Texas’ first seven postseason wins. He battled through a neck injury and lost the closing job early this season to find himself in this spot on Sunday night.

Perhaps most importantly for Leclerc, he didn’t want the bitter taste of Game 5 to linger for his mom, Fiordaliza, who was in attendance on Friday at Globe Life Field to watch him pitch for the first time in an MLB game. Leclerc’s wife, kids and mom couldn’t join him in Houston for Game 6, but they are headed to Minute Maid Park to watch Game 7.

“My mom has played a really pivotal part in my life, in my upbringing -- making me the person, the man, that I am right now,” Leclerc said. “So just going out there and showing her I’m doing the best I can.”

He got Mauricio Dubón to line out softly. The Astros then pinch-hit for shortstop Jeremy Peña, substituting lefty slugger Jon Singleton in hopes of re-creating Singleton’s walk on Friday night against Leclerc, which set up Altuve’s home run.

Instead, the Rangers’ closer won an eight-pitch at-bat by getting Singleton to whiff on a high cutter. Leclerc, an even-keeled, soft-spoken player nicknamed “Pico” by his teammates, normally reserves his emotions for after he completes a save.

But the redemption against Singleton was too priceless of a moment to pass up, and he let it out with a huge roar.

“I know that was a gut punch, Game 5, how it ended,” designated hitter Mitch Garver said. “But Pico is the guy to get the ball for us. And what he was able to do there -- navigate that eighth inning and punch out Singleton there to end the inning -- was huge for us. Gave us a ton of momentum.”

Leclerc credited his family and friends for helping him put Friday behind him. His friends told him not to get down. His teammates told him to keep attacking. And Fiordaliza gave him some motherly advice.

“[My mom] said, ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter what happened yesterday, try to make today better, and I know that with God, it’s going to be better,’” Leclerc said.

Bochy confirmed the plan was to send Leclerc back out there for the ninth if the Rangers hadn’t opened up a big lead. His faith in Leclerc will likely extend to Game 7 on Monday night, when Leclerc could have another shot at redemption with his mom watching.

“That’s just the kind of guy he is. He's not going to let anyone get him too down, and he's going to show up each and every day and do his job as best as he can,” catcher Jonah Heim said. “He's been an absolute horse for us this entire postseason.”